Good food is not exclusive to metropolitan areas, this we know. A dense population and international airports are not necessarily the first ingredients in creating a thriving food scene. Across the country, there are small towns (for our purposes, they have less than 300,000 residents) where fresh ingredients are readily available and a passion for cooking and eating local foods never wanes. Where once we stumbled on these towns haphazardly, now travelers are arriving at them on purpose. As we are traveling more and more often for food (and local, fresh, seasonal food at that), it makes sense that we’d head toward the deeper cuts — why get a lobster roll in New York City when you can get one direct from the source in Maine?
That three of these towns are adjacent to wine regions should come as no surprise — they serve the best local foods to pair with the best local wines. And what could be more inviting to winemakers and wine drinkers alike than a small, walkable town serving high-end cuisine with rolling vineyards just a few miles away? Walla Walla, Healdsburg, and McMinnville all have that kind of laid-back, hidden charm in spades. But then there are unexpected towns, like Lafayette, La., and Traverse City, Mich., that are hidden dining treasures simply because of their seasonal bounty and the local food culture that’s grown from it.
Where some of these towns have specific foods to love (and host festivals around them), like lobsters in Rockland, Maine, others have a surprising number of dining options that run the gamut from fine dining to holes in the wall. So in putting together this year’s list, we not only took stock of population and density of dining options, but looked at food-focused buzz in the media and accessibility of local ingredients. These are not just our favorite towns to stop along your next road trip; these are towns we’d want to spend some time in.
Walla Walla, Wash.
Originally a farming community, the Walla Walla Valley is pretension-free and wine- and food-obsessed. It is popping up on many a wine-taster’s radar as the country's new region to explore, and the town of Walla Walla boasts great places to find good food and cool company. The Walla Walla Valley Farmers Market is proof of the region's bounty, but so are dishes like the fish tacos at Green Lantern, the pastas and flatbreads from Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen, and the seasonal menus at Whitehouse-Crawford.
Savannah is even more charming and idyllic than it sounds, sitting along the water as an old Southern port town with cobblestoned streets and endless amounts of mouthwatering Southern cuisine. The historic district is home to some of the city's most welcoming eateries, like B. Matthews Eatery, where locals flock for brunch, and the town's sugar-sweetness can be found at places like Back in the Day Bakery and the Gryphon Tea Room. More serious Southern meals can be found at Olde Pink House and Elizabeth on 37th.
Just north of Sonoma, Healdsburg is a postage stamp-sized town that packs in ample wine tasting with hole-in-the-wall restaurants, fine dining, and heaps of charm. The town wasn't always known for its food, to be sure, but now with Cyrus at the helm of its fine dining options, Scopa serving a grandmother's kind of Italian food, the freshness of Dry Creek Kitchen, the burgers at Healdsburg Bar and Grill, and the cool vibe and fantastic seafood at Willi's Seafood, it definitely is now.
Rockland is that quaint New England seaside town that is the stuff of summer getaway dreams. The salty air and fresh-caught lobster are just the start; locals crowd into cozy Café Miranda, they find the town's best sticky buns at Home Kitchen Café, go for sushi at Suzuki's, and indulge in fresh, classic Italian at Primo. But declaring a favorite lobster roll is a must for visitors, so start at Linda's Beans, Waterman's Beach, or Miller's Lobster Company.
For more small towns click here.
More from The Daily Meal: